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Inaction Breeds Death in Darfur

Prepared by: Michael Moran
October 31, 2006

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When Kurds took de facto control of northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, among the discoveries made were the taped remarks of Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka “Chemical Ali,” just before he ordered the gassing of rebellious locals. “I will kill them all with chemical weapons!” al-Majid railed. “Who is going to say anything? The international community? F*** them.” As columnist Nick Cohen notes in The Observer, recent events in Sudan suggest such disdain for international law may be as valid as ever.

In spite of UN Security Council decisions to deploy peacekeepers to Sudan’s Darfur region, in spite of a U.S. government finding that “genocide” is taking place there, and President Bush’s call at the UN General Assembly in September for immediate action, not much has changed. As CFR’s chief Africa expert Princeton Lyman notes: “We always thought that if something was finally designated as genocide it would trigger the Genocide Convention and the international community would have to act,” he told CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman. “What we’re finding is that in itself doesn’t define what has to be done or what can be done.”

The Darfur conflict (BBC), which pits Sudan’s Islamic government and its agents, the Arab janjaweed militias, against rebellious groups in Darfur seeking greater rights over their local resources, affects civilians most severely. Establishing an exact death toll may be impossible in such a region, but UN and other reliable estimates range from 150,000 to 200,000 dead, with some two million displaced over the past three years. Human rights groups agree both sides commit atrocities. However, successive reports by Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group (ICG), and the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (PDF) chronicle systematic abuses by Sudan’s military and allied militias. The ICG report, dated last month, also blames “the international community’s three-year failure to apply effective diplomatic and economic pressure on Sudan’s government and its senior officials.”

The Security Council finally agreed to send peacekeeping troops to reinforce and replace a weaker African Union mission in the region. But Sudan’s government refuses to allow the UN to deploy, invoking timeworn concerns about “Western imperialism” and Zionism (WashPost), winning Khartoum support from the Arab League (BBC) as well as nations at odds with Washington. Late last month, Sudan expelled the UN’s envoy, Jan Pronk, whom it accused of showing bias in remarks posted on his personal weblog (BBC). The stalemate led CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot to propose a mercenary force for Darfur (LAT).

So far unwilling to invoke articles of the UN Charter that would allow the Security Council to intervene in spite of Khartoum’s objections, the world body instead mulled plans this week to site a monitoring force in neighboring Chad, where refugees and fighting has spilled over (AlertNet). Tensions between the two states rose over the weekend with an accusation of Sudanese air force bombardments in Chad (VOA), and clashes between Chadian military units and Darfur rebels that allegedly killed one of the army’s top commanders (AP). The rebels have taken increasing criticism since their decision to eschew a peace accord signed last April. Efforts to revive talks continue without concrete progress to date (VOA). Says CFR’s Lyman: “The rebel groups are no great shakes. They’ve committed humanitarian degradations. They’ve attacked food convoys. And sometimes their conflicts for power have interfered with the peace process.”

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